Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Neil Armstrong the Moon landing and coal mines the NZ High Court moon-walks us to a hot place

Robin Johnson's Economics Web Page looks at Neil Armstrong, and the Moon-landing, and a NZ coal'n'climate change court case.

On the same day as the death of Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to step onto the Moon, became public, the New Zealand High Court moon-walked its way to it's own off-the-world moment. It decided that greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are off-limits in the planning for an open cast coal mine. That's as just as 'out of this world' as denying that the Moon landings ever happened.

On Saturday, two bits of news struck home to me very strongly. The first was the death of moon-landing astronaut Neil Armstrong. The second was the decision of the New Zealand High Court that for new open-cast coal mines, their carbon dioxide emissions and global warming are legally and jurisdictionally unrelated in the Resource Management Act.

The moon landing. I remember very well as a seven year old listening attentively to the 'one small step' broadcast in 1969. The whole class was silent under the spell of our teacher's scratchy transistor radio.

It's one of my most strongly held memories of my child-hood. I guess that reflects well on that class of seven-year olds. They stopped playing bullrush, sniffing with colds, and fighting over play-lunchs to listen attentively to the unfolding of one of humanity's most historic moments.

While I was still fondly remembering the Moon landing, the next news item struck.

It was the New Zealand High Court decision barring discussion of carbon dioxide emissions when coal mines seek Resource Management Act consents (see Radio NZ, NBR and TV3 and the Otago Daily Times).

Of course this is about the Perth coal company Bathurst Resources and their Escarpment Mine Project.

Bryan Walker of Hot Topic has posted that this project represents New Zealand doing a Pontius Pilate and washing its hands of the emissions.

I have posted that the decisions by councils and the NZ Environment Court to date reflect the zombie ETS infecting the Resource Management Act with climate madness.

My Saturday morning reverie of the Moon landing was rudely stopped and I sort of grumbled to myself;

"Open-cast coal mines and global warming are unrelated!! Thats about as sensible as saying the Moon landings were faked by NASA. Neil Armstrong would just have smacked someone in the face!"

From small half-asleep reactions, blog posts do grow. With the wee footnote that it was actually Buzz Aldrin who punched the Moon landing denier.

I could do a review of the legal issues, but that would be just more legal-climate yadda yadda. I will just note that back in the early 1990s, the Bolger National Government considered the Resource Management Act to be one of the main tools to deal with global warming.

As for the science of it, I will just point to a couple James Hansen charts from his The Case for Young People paper.

The first is cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide. Approving new coal mines adds to cumulative global emissions of carbon dioxide. The second chart shows likely scenarios for temperature. The more carbon dioxide accumulates, the higher the likely temperature.

The facts are that each time a new coal mine is approved, we are just adding to the temperature overshoot above two degrees.

Why is it that the High Court can't apply this simple logic? Why are we even in a position where the High Court can sever the undeniable link between new coal mines, the volumes of carbon dioxide accumulating globally, and the inevitable temperature rise? What has has happened to our legal and planning systems to make this sort of decision possible?

To me this outcome - where the global effects of more GHG emissions are legally severed from approval of a new coal mine - is just as 'out of this world' as denying that the Moon landings even happened.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nick Smith gases and fracks global warming for New Zealand

What has happened to the former New Zealand Minister of Climate Change Issues, the hon Dr Nick Smith? In March he resigned from all his ministerial offices when his conflict of interest in the accident compensation case of his National-insider friend Brownyn Pullar became public.

Well Nick Smith is back in the public spotlight and is promoting the extraction of unconventional gas via hydraulic fracturing.

Smith has written an op-ed in the New Zealand Herald Fracking the sensible choice for NZ.

Fracking technologies are underpinning an energy revolution in the United States. Huge unconventional shale gas resources in Louisiana and Pennsylvania are coming on stream, enabling gas to replace coal-fired electricity generation. Gas emits one-third the greenhouse gas emissions of coal.
If we do not find new natural gas resources in the next decade, energy prices will rise and we will inevitably burn more coal. New Zealand must be open to responsibly using fracking to access our unconventional gas resources.

So, according to Smith, from a global warming perspective, unconventional gas is implicitly okay as its emits one-third the greenhouse gas emissions of coal.

Smith concludes that NZ needs;

a strong economy and a clean environment. That will only be possible if we take a rational and science-based approach to our natural resources and risk management.

Hot Topic rightly calls this another Nick Smith fossil fuel fail.

Promoting unconventional gas development is not the an approach based on sound climate science.

Thats abundantly clear from James Hansen's talks in New Zealand in 2011. Did Dr Smith miss these?

Kharecha and Hansen, in their 2008 paper Implications of "peak oil" for atmospheric CO2 and climate. Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 22, GB3012, doi:10.1029/2007GB003142, have clearly told us that we can only keep carbon dioxide concentrations from exceeding about 450 ppm by 2100, if emissions from coal, unconventional fossil fuels, and land use are constrained.

The specific issue of whether a transition to conventional natural gas will actually reduce future greenhouse gas emissions is dealt with in Myhrvold and Caldeira (2012) Greenhouse gases, climate change and the transition from coal to low-carbon electricity.

The Carnegie Institute explains Caldeira and Myhrvold's conclusion; Only the lowest CO2 emitting technologies can avoid a hot end-of-century.

..in the case of natural gas—increasingly the power industry’s fuel of choice, because gas reserves have been growing and prices have been falling—the study finds that warming would continue even if over the next 40 years every coal-fired power plant in the world were replaced with a gas-fueled plant.

As Joe Romm says natural gas is a bridge to nowhere

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New Zealand emissions trading scheme You are the weakest international link Goodbye!

Robin Johnson's Economics Web Page argues that the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZETS) is "the weakest link" due to it's high exposure to the international carbon market. The strong "international linkage" is the the other side of the coin of the uncapped design of the NZETS. Both features reinforce just how ineffective the NZETS is in providing an incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Who remembers the The Weakest Link? The quiz show with Anne Robinson the disciplinarian female host with the popular catchphrase "You are the weakest link. Goodbye!"

Yes that's today's bonkers metaphor for another wonky post on the New Zealand emissions trading scheme. In addition to the observation that I would love to say "NZETS you are the weakest link. Goodbye!" there really is a relevant connection to the economics literature.

"Linking" of emissions trading schemes means that units from one emissions trading scheme (ETS) can be imported and surrendered by emitters regulated by a different ETS. There are papers and blog posts about international linkage.

The key economic benefit claimed for linking two or more ETS, assuming that they are otherwise sensibly designed, is that the lowest-cost ways of reducing emissions within the linked schemes become available (via emissions trading) to the emitters of the linked schemes.

An example. Pastoral agriculture may or may not have low-cost ways of reducing emissions. If agriculture has relatively high mitigation costs, then you are doing agriculture a favour by including it within a national all-sectors ETS, rather than just in an agriculture ETS. Agriculture can then just buy 'ways of reducing emissions' in the form of units from the cheapest seller - the emitter who can reduce emissions at a lower cost.

Not surprisingly, New Zealand's Minister for Climate Change (and Trade), Tim Groser, is very keen on linking international emissions trading schemes. Groser also does not want the New Zealand price for emissions units to be "dislodged" from the international price. Well that wouldn't be lowest-cost, would it?

However, this is all context for two recent reports on the NZETS in the 2011 calendar year. Last Friday, the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment (MfE) released 'NZ ETS 2011 Facts and figures'. Earlier, in July, the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) released its report on 2011 unit surrenders and allocations, the Section 89 Climate Change Response Act report.

This table sums up the Ministry's report.

In 2011, 16.3 million units were surrendered by New Zealand emitters. Of which, 11.7 million units were imported international units (being 4.2 million CERs, 4.3 million ERUs and 3.2 million RMUs.)

Reaction to the report was swift. Carbon foresters decried the fact that foreign units were swamping the NZ ETS in 2011 at the expense of units from NZ forestry. "..foreign carbon was the credit of choice for emitters in 2011. International credits comprised a whopping 71% of all units surrendered for compliance.."

BusinessDesk noted the that big emitters had chased the cheap foreign carbon units in preference to NZ units as European carbon prices dropped to historic lows, dragging NZU prices as low as low as $4.50 to $5 per tonne of carbon last week.

Another forester said the NZETS was now a Claytons ETS (no doubt having forgotten that Colin James said 'Claytons emissions trading scheme' first).

Kennedy Graham of the Greens said there was no incentive for NZ polluters to reduce emissions. Kennedy hits the nail on the head.

I don't disagree with any of these sentiments. The importing of 11.7 million international units really spells out the "weakest international link" design flaw of the NZETS.

But for me the key point is not the number of units imported, it is that the unlimited importing of international units has been hardwired into the design of the NZETS since the Labour government's 2007 The Framework for a New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme document.

And if a small market where the compliance demand is 16 million units can import units from the international market where 977 million units exist, then a cap on domestic emissions is never going to be possible.

Thats why the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme really is the weakest (international) link.